Yeah yeah, finally a small vacation for me. I really needed it for numerous reasons (some people will understand this, believe me). Because of the lagging updates on the website I decided to write down a journal of the trip. Welcome to the world of crazy truckdrivers, homeland security and Quebecan anti-americanism.
The whole trip started on the 16th of March, when Jan and I left for Schiphol Airport in the early morning. Being there two hours before our flight was more than enough, as we hardly needed to wait at all. The electronic ticket we were issued was really fast, no hassle with 'blonde' people at counters or such. The flight itself was long and boring, but that's the case with every cross-Atlantic flight I guess. From 10km high we could see New York and the statue of liberty, which was kinda cool. The only thing that annoyed me that our first leg was going to Atlanta which is 2 hours further than Baltimore, but on exactly the same course. So we needed to have another 2 hour flight back to get to Baltimore. Atlanta itself gave some problems too, after Jan got through immigration the system broke down, and I had to wait 20 mins for nothing, which was highly annoying. The good thing is that they let us in :). At the airport in Baltimore Dan was supposed to pick us up, along with his sister Dana and a friend of hers. They forgot though that the last leg was a national flight, and not an international flight, so they ended up waiting for 30 mins at the international terminal, and we at the Domestic terminal. At last Dan came looking for us and we headed towards Baltimore.
The next day Jan, Dana and I went to DC, to play for tourist. After a 45 minute drive we got onto the MARC towards DC, where we started to look for the Washington Mall. We asked a fence guard for the way there, and the man summed it all up very quickly, as if he explained it atleast a few dozen times, which is likely to be true anyway :). The Washington Mall is a place with a lot of museums around a small park with on one end the Capitol, and on the otherside the Washington monument.
We decided to visit the Air & Space museum, as that was supposed the only one to be open. After about two hours in there we headed out to see the White House, but not until after we had a look at the minerals and gems in the Natural History museum. Visiting the White House was harder than we thought as some weird guy drove a truck full (as he said) of explosives. A friendly copper explained that this whole event started earlier in the morning, and that the bottom line was that the guy didn't agree with the way tobacco farmers were treated. Disappointed by this event we headed back to Baltimore for a dinner at a Mexican restaurant with the 5 of us. After dinner we listened in the car to Bush' statement to the country, including the 48hour ultimatum. For me it was kinda weird to hear it 'live' in between Americans. Still, everybody has it's own thoughts on the whole Iraq situation, but that's something not for this entry. In the evening the plan was to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in full style, but unfortunately I was simply too tired for it.
After a good rest the jetlag was almost gone, not much happened at all that day except we had a nice meal at a Thai restaurant. The original plan was to leave this Tuesday for Montreal, and stay the night some where, but we decided to do the trip in one day.
After having lunch (bagels) we headed out for Montreal, the weather was pretty smooth and we made good progress. While driving through New Jersey all the electronical road signs were showing some text telling us to report all kinds of suspect activity, whatever that may mean. This was one of the signs that America was at war and the hightened terrorist attack level. In the Adirondacks, close to the border with Canada we stopped for a while to enjoy the snow.
The border wasn't that much of a challenge either, except that they asked us to go inside and go through customs. For some reason they wanted to have a closer look at our passport, most likely because we weren't all Americans. At about 19.00 we arrived at hotel Seguy, where we were greeted by Damien and his wife Celine. After a small supper we went to pick up Rasmus at the Montreal airport and dumped him at his hotel. Back at Damien's we went straight for bed, as the next day would start early.
After a short night we headed off to the Ecole Polytechnique again, where we were attending the conference was held. While waiting for a traffic light a Quebecan summoned us to open the window, as if he wanted to ask us something. The question was if we were Americans (we were driving in Dan's car) and my answer was that I was not from the USA, so the Canadian started talking about how Dutchies like Canadians and Canadians like Dutchies. After that statement he threw another one, more specific at Dan: 'But we certainly don't like Americans over here'. I was kinda surprised by this statement, and all Dan could say was 'thanks to you too'. For some reason there are still people who think that all inhabitants of a country think like their government, or even that all Americans are evil. At the conference I started finishing my slides, as my presentation would be the next day. There was plenty of time for it as most of the technical talks were done by fellow PHPers (Rasmus, Andrei, Ilia and Zak) and I heard most of it before.
The organisers of the conference planned a dinner for the night, and a typical BYOW restaurant, which stands for 'Bring Your Own Wine'. We bought some wine, beer and Margarita at a local store and headed for the restaurant. We were early so we started on the wine, the first bottle was gone by the time the other people arrived. Of course the whole menu was in French, so picking the food of choice was tricky, but by translations of our table guests we made our choices. The food tasted really good, and so did the wine :-) By the time the dinner was over the most attendees were in some state of drunkeness, including myself.
Driving through Montreal is a whole story apart. Traffic is close to that in Paris, and having a Parisian driving doesn't make it less adventurous. In the car I did the last finishing touch on my presentation which was at 9am. I was not totally happy with it, as I had a little bit too less material for the session itself. Fortunately there were some people interested and starting asking questions. I blew one of the answers by telling that SRM is 'stable to play with', which would suggest that SRM at the moment is not interesting at all. Something to remember for next times. For dinner we went to the Sushi bar Soto, 500 McGill st., as Zak suggested. Although the Sushi was great, the bill was not. The final damage was 1800 CAD, which is about 1200 USD/Euro and that was only for 16 people. Some of the Quebecians even consulted a lawyer on this, as the price was much higher as 16 times the most expensive item on the menu. After the bickering stopped Philippe brought us to 'les deux Pierrots', a typical local 'club' with lots of weird local entertainment. I didn't stay long as I felt sick, and went home with Damien to crash early.
The Saturday was reversed for a visit to a Maple Sugar Shack, which is a place to enjoy a historical Quenbecan lunch/dinner, including some entertainment. It was weird to hear Dutch there, but apperently one of the people working there emigrated to Canada in the late 50s. Remarkable she spoke Dutch quite well, although with a heavy accent. After visiting the fog machine we headed back home in order to prepare for dinner, which we had in a small cosy restaurant with a few PHP people.
A crepe contest had place at hotel Seguy on Sunday morning, in which Dan, Jan and I competed. As I was the first to flip a crepe, I consider myself winner. After the breakfest we had of to New York City, to visit Sterling and crash there for the night. The border security was a joke, within 3 minutes we were through it, after some army dude checked our luggage. At about 6pm we arrived at Sterlings place in Mamaroneck, NY. We had a real BBQ meal in a local restaurant which has 'the best ribs in the world'.
On Monday Sterling took us on a tour through New York. We started by train from Mamaroneck to the Grand Station and went to look for Times Square. Sterling got lost after no less then 5 minutes but after consulting some fellow New Yorkers we managed our way there, also checking out Rockefeller Center in the meanwhile. The next main attraction was the Empire State building, since 9/11 the highest building in NYC. From there we looked out over the whole city, and the things that miss now. There were not many people up there, perhaps because the people were afraid of another terrorist attack, especially now during the ongoing war with Iraq. After that we went looking for some hotdog vendors, one of the symbols of the city, and after having found one, and having indulged in the great 'dog' we headed for Central Park to rest and chill out. After having relaxed for a few minutes we headed back to Sterling s place by metro and train in order to leave in time for Baltimore. We departed at about 6 after having said goodbye, and after having collected a large amount of food for our trip from Sterling's mom. The trip 'home' went smooth and we arrived at about 10pm, just in time for going to bed.
Flying out of Baltimore gave no problems either, but I guess the people at the security booth don't ever dare to ask me to take of my shoes anymore :-). Another strange thing is that there were two 'moons' as Jan said it, but one happened to be our right wing tail light... and I was wondering why the moon looked so small and strange :-)
So far the journal of the trip to the US, the final conclusion is that 'It rocked', and too bad that work starts again tomorrow.